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Does the arrival of Costa Coffee spell the end for Japan’s independent cafes?

21 Comments
By Connie Sceaphierde, grape Japan

For many years now, the UK’s coffee industry has been ruled by one giant coffee chain – Costa Coffee – with even Starbucks accepting defeat and claiming 2nd place as the country’s most popular cafe, it is understandable why so many independent coffee stores live in fear of the UK’s coffee king.

Now, Japan has a bit of a franchise coffee chain problem themselves, with more than 1,600 Starbucks stores dotted around the country, and with Doutor and Tully’s following close behind. Despite the harrowing number of coffee chains spread throughout the country, independent stores in Japan don’t seem to have many complaints, and instead of suffering a loss of customers to franchise stores, they instead seem to experience a stable number of new and returning customers.

But that could be about to change.

If you’ve wandered along the Nakameguro high street recently, and you’re a Brit, you may or may not have noticed the infamous burgundy and white hues of Costa Coffee signs beginning to suspiciously appear along the sidewalk.

Whether or not the London-bred coffee chain sought out to follow in Starbucks footsteps and make Nakameguro their Tokyo base (there are 4 Starbucks stores located within a 1km radius of each other in Nakameguro), they’ve opened up more than one coffee stand in the area, after launching their first Tokyo store in Shibuya.

Ok, I see what you might be thinking… "what harm can a coffee chain stand do? It’s just a little stand." But if you open your hearts up for the independent stores for just a second, you’ll note how even one small coffee stand of a giant chain means even less space for them in the Nakameguro area.

And it’s not only Nakameguro, Costa Coffee has just made the big leap down to Kyushu, where they’ve just opened up a new wagon store in Fukuoka, complete with limited edition drinks. For any Brit’s on the island, this could be a chance to throw back some serious nostalgia, from before the travel bans took their hold on the world. And for anyone else, you could take the chain’s arrival as a chance to form your own opinion about the new (big) kid on the block, and what their intentions in Japan really are.

Despite my reservations, I still don’t want to jump to conclusions, but I am wondering if a Costa Coffee takeover is on the books for Japan, and whether the independent stores are in for a bumpy ride.

Introducing Fukuoka PayPay Dome Costa Coffee store

Kyushu’s first Costa Coffee opened to the public on March 26, at Fukuoka PayPay Dome’s Hawk’s Cafe. Their limited edition menu was supposedly created as the perfect beverage to sip on whilst watching a baseball game at the venue.

Limited Edition specialty drinks (Fukuoka PayPay Dome store only)

Strawberry iced Latte – 680 yen

Chocolate cookie iced latte – 680 yen

2_fukuoka_costadrinks.jpg

Costa Coffee was created in London in 1971 by the Costa brothers Sergio and Bruno, and has since become Europe’s leading coffee brand, with more than 3,000 chains operating across the continent as of 2019 (via statistical survey by Statista).

Of all the coffee beans in the world, Costa Coffee only considers 5% to be suitable for their

brand, and they choose to use 100% *Rainforest Alliance certified beans. All of their beans are slowly roasted at their state-of-the-art roasting plant in Basildon, Essex underneath the direction of a Costa Coffee Roasting Master. Slow roasted to the specifications of Costa’s signature blend, the beans have a smooth, delicate and all-round balanced flavor that can be enjoyed by even newcomers to the world of coffee.

*A Rainforest Alliance certification means that the product was produced by farmers, foresters and/or companies using methods that lead to strengthening of the three pillars of sustainability – social, economic and environmental.

So what do I think about the landing of Costa Coffee on the streets of Japan as a Brit?

There was once a time when I would spend all my coffee money on Costa Coffee in the UK. Admittedly I was new to the caffeine buzz, and with there being a Costa Coffee shop on every single corner of my city, it was an easy go-to.

It took a while, but eventually I branched out to other franchises like Cafe Nero or Boston Tea Party (South West UK based and the first coffee chain in the world to stop issuing single use coffee cups in 2018), and once I had acquired a tongue for specialty coffee, independent stores like Ka:Fei (a gem of a coffee kiosk owned and run by the friendliest baristas I’ve ever met; Arrow and Fency. Seriously, if you are in Bristol city, grab yourself the best coffee you’ve ever had from Ka:Fei) in the centre of Bristol City became a second home to me.

Does the arrival of Costa Coffee spell out the ending of Japan’s independent coffee shop industry? I sure hope not.

Read more stories from grape Japan.

-- Totoro and Jiji Mother’s Day ‘delivery’ gifts are the perfect present for Studio Ghibli loving mums

-- Japan’s Spring Bread Festival starts in April in Shinjuku

-- Kirby Cafe to celebrate the character’s 29th birthday by adding super cute star cake to the menu

© grape Japan

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.

21 Comments
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Good, anything is better than Starbucks.

-3 ( +5 / -8 )

Finally.

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

This article is heavily pushing the "Brits" angle, but I'm British too and I do not see Costa Coffee as anything worthy of national pride. The drink I am proud of is proper tea and not the coloured water that passes for tea (kocha) in Japan. I make sure we have something suitably robust to drink at home, Taylors Yorkshire Tea or Ringtons, and serve it up to everyone who comes to our house.

As for Costa, the menu looks like it is just the same drinks as everywhere else at the same high prices. 700 yen for a milkshake with fake cream? No thanks. Mister Donuts do great shakes (choco fudge) for 300 yen.

More than anything, just remember these places are giving you a drink and a sit down. Do not project anything else onto it. It is not a form of self-expression or entry into a society of auteurs like Allan Ginsberg and Jean Paul Sartre.

9 ( +13 / -4 )

Whether I am in Japan or home in the US, I avoid chain-brand coffee shops. They will never have the charm of local coffeehouses.

4 ( +7 / -3 )

Same as the comment above, I'm a Brit and drink tea. Yorkshire Gold, which you can get in Japan via Amazon, M&S Extra Strong, which I stock up on on the rare trips home, totally run out now, or just Typhoo or PG, which you can buy in Seijo Isshi.

The only time I drink coffee is if I'm out at the weekend and need to sit down somewhere comfortable. Tokyo has no street benches anywhere, and precious few in the few parks here, so I've often found myself in Starbucks, waiting for a seat to become free, where I'm then subjected to annoying background music.

So yes, I'm glad that Costa is coming to Japan, it is much better than Starbucks, and the food (as least in England, who knows what it'll be like here) is a billion times better than Starbucks. But I don't see in in any way as especially "British". It's just a place to sit down.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

I see flat white on the menu. I believe that is an Australian invention. Perth?

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Given that Costa coffee tastes as though it has passed through a cat's anus, I think it's safe to say that they're not going to be much of a threat. Proper coffee served in cafes that actually know how to make coffee can never be beaten by a corporate chain.

Also, Costa in the UK is mostly popular with the younger people who don't really care about the taste as long as they can get a cheap caffeine fix. Starbucks' negative image doesn't help matters either.

2 ( +6 / -4 )

Meh.

Recently bought an espresso machine for home. At the rate I drink coffee, it'll pay for itself in no time, and I can experiment with different beans from the local roaster at a fraction of the cost of a coffee from a chain. And it tastes so much better.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Costa coffee sucks. And 500yen for a flat white, give me Dotour anyday! I am presuming the size will be a lot bigger than Dotour though as I am always shocked at how big the coffee cups are now when I go back to the UK.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

Does the arrival of Costa Coffee spell out the ending of Japan’s independent coffee shop industry? I sure hope not.

No it doesn't. It just offers an alternative that customers of independant cafe's are unlikely to take up.

Starbucks, Costa Coffee, and Dutour are to coffee what McDonalds, Burger King and Carls Jr are to hamburgers. You know what you are going to get regardless of the location and store you walk into. The food is the same but ininspiring.

Independant cafes do well because they are different to the mainstream.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

lol. Many comments seem to have veered off of the "will this hurt small cafes" focus to either brag about how strong/superior is their own Builder's Brew, or which is "better": the coffee shop equivalent of MacDonald's versus Wimpy Burger. That's sad, and rather small-minded at the same time...

If Starbucks didn't destroy the local cafe/kisaten industry, even with the most revolutionary innovation they brought with them, aka the 100% tobacco-free coffee shop), I imagine the locals will also survive the arrival of the Starbucks clone Costa Coffee (which is now owned by The American Coca-Cola Company, by the way, so...yeah, before you start singing "Rule Britannia" from your breakfast nook...)

2 ( +6 / -4 )

I like Costas as, in the UK at least, tea comes in a pot with proper cups, not some lukewarm dishwater in a paper cup. They also do nice carrot cake, lemon tart and buttermilk crumpets.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

The independent coffee shop owners can get jobs at Costa. Win-win

-7 ( +0 / -7 )

@Rick Hepner. Fully agree. Whenever I travel or in my home country, I always avoid international chain restaurants and cafes. There is nothing like experiencing the charm and coziness of smaller and independent eateries and cafes. I tried Costa whilst in England but nothing really special.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

The best coffee I've had in Japan is in small coffee shops/kissatens. The worst coffee by I've had by far was some godawful muck in a cup in Starbucks. I find the coffee at Doutor and similar mid-range chains perfectly drinkable.

Starbucks is coffee for people who don't know what real coffee tastes like and don't care to find out. Judging by the comments here, I assume Costa, which I've never heard of here in Australia, is just as bad. So next time I'm in Japan I'll treat Costa just like I do Starbucks, and avoid it like the plague.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

I'm a Brit who likes tea and coffee, but Costa's coffee in the U.K. is undrinkable (ditto Starbucks). My expectations could not be lower.....

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I would happily spend my money at more independent, small coffee shops as opposed to large chains; but so many of them allow smoking, which is disgusting and a threat to my health. Thank goodness for Starbucks and places like them, if only for nice air while enjoying my coffee.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

To the extent possible I prefer to patronize the little independents rather than belly up to the mermaid (look at what's on the Starbucks logo).

0 ( +3 / -3 )

I'm going to hazard a guess and say none of the vegan cakes and snacks at UK branches made it to Japan.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I really don't understand why people spend 300-500 yen for a crap cup of coffee when you can just spend 100yen on a crap cup of coffee if you really want one.....

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Not that it's a good thing but Costa won't beat Starbucks

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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